SSAT Elementary Level Reading : How to Determine the Meaning of a Phrase from Its Context in a Fiction Passage

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Elementary Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : How To Determine The Meaning Of A Phrase From Its Context In A Fiction Passage

Adapted from "The Princess and the Pea" by Hans Christian Andersen (trans. Sommer 1897)

Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess; but she would have to be a real princess. He travelled all over the world to find one, but nowhere could he get what he wanted. There were princesses enough, but it was difficult to find out whether they were real ones. There was always something about them that was not as it should be. So he came home again and was sad, for he would have liked very much to have a real princess.

One evening a terrible storm came on; there was thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the city gate, and the old king went to open it.

It was a princess standing out there in front of the gate. The water ran down from her hair and clothes; it ran down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. She looked so destitute in the wind and the rain. And yet she said that she was a real princess.

“Well, we’ll soon find that out,” thought the old queen. But she said nothing, went into the bed-room, took all the bedding off the bedstead, and laid a pea on the bottom; then she took twenty mattresses and laid them on top of the pea.

On this the princess had to lie all night. In the morning she was asked how she had slept.

“Oh, very badly!” said she. “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”

Now they knew that she was a real princess because she had felt the pea right through the twenty mattresses and the twenty eider-down beds.

Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.

So the prince took her for his wife, for now he knew that he had a real princess; and the pea was put in the museum, where it may still be seen, if no one has stolen it.

There, that is a true story.

What does the princess mean when she says she is “black and blue” (underlined) all over her body? 

Possible Answers:

Her make-up has been ruined in the rain

She is bruised and sore 

None of these answers 

She has been painted in her sleep 

She feels comfortable and well-rested 

Correct answer:

She is bruised and sore 


The expression “black and blue” is an English idiom that means to be bruised. An idiom is usually a non literal, fixed expression. For example, the idiom “raining cats and dogs” means raining a lot, and the idiom “over the moon” means very happy.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, And Organization In Literature Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

In the first paragraph, what does the underlined phrase “the mischief” refer to?

Possible Answers:

Something the white kitten did that made it get dirty

The fact that the black kitten made Alice worry by hiding all morning

The fact that the black kitten tore apart a lace doily

The fact that the black kitten unwound the ball of worsted

A practical joke Alice is planning

Correct answer:

The fact that the black kitten unwound the ball of worsted


This is a somewhat tricky question because the passage jumps right into its discussion of “the mischief” in its first paragraph, and the reader only figures out what this is in the passage’s third paragraph. The first paragraph offers no clue as to what “the mischief” is, besides the fact that it’s solely the black kitten’s fault; you have to consider the rest of the passage in order to figure out what is being referenced. If you only consider the first paragraph, three answer choices may seem correct: “The fact that the black kitten unwound the ball of worsted,” “The fact that the black kitten tore apart a lace doily,” and “The fact that the black kitten made Alice worry by hiding all morning.” However, considering the third paragraph, which describes how the black kitten unwound the ball of worsted, should help you infer that “the mischief” being referenced in the first paragraph is actually “the fact that the black kitten unwound the ball of worsted.”

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